Under the Trump administration, hunters and anglers have become a loud voice in the battle over how we use federal public lands. This includes Steven Rinella, who is fast becoming a big name among sportsmen and women.
He’s the star of the Netflix hunting series “MeatEater,” hosts a podcast and has written ten books. Rinella recently spoke with reporter Nate Hegyi about hunting, politics and how, when it comes to public lands, the issue is at a crossroads.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
NATE HEGYI: What’s the biggest issue facing public lands in 2019?
STEVEN RINELLA: There's sort of this existential kind of question that we're grappling with right now. It's become a partisan issue. Is our federally managed public land legitimate? Are they a good thing? I think that a lot of people, a lot of outdoorsmen, just sort of accept at face value that public lands are great. We love public lands.
But there are people in the political space who question, “Is this the role the federal government should have? Is there a legitimacy to public land?” There's been movement to privatize public lands, to take federally managed public land and move them over to state management or give them to the states.
So we're having this existential debate and at the same time we're also having a debate around to what degree are we comfortable exploiting and in some cases industrializing our public lands?
NH: As you said, the argument has shifted from privatizing federally managed public lands. At what extent do we protect these public lands from resource extraction?
Under the Trump administration we've seen a record number of oil and gas lease sales. We've also seen some national monuments shrink – essentially easing those protections on public lands to make it easier for resource extraction.
Where do you land on the shrinking of places like Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monument here in Utah?
SR: From my perspective, and this is just me speaking as a hunter and angler, I see it as a really complex situation. It's hard for me to speak about it with a ton of certainty.
When the Trump administration shrunk the monuments there was this narrative that your public lands had been stolen from you. But no ownership changed hands in the shrinking of the monuments. We were talking about public lands that remained public. There was no selling off or shifting.
But all things considered, I was disappointed by the decision to shrink the monuments because I feel that the No. 1 threat that faces the lifestyle that I'm involved [in], the economy that I'm involved in, is a loss of habitat.
I think that when we look back 100 years from now we will see the story of American wildlife kind of hinged on this idea of how much acreage, how many square miles of habitat, do we protect for wildlife to exist? And that's the thing that worries me.
NH: Last year we saw a lot of these big public lands bills fail in Congress. Do you think that Congress is taking this seriously enough? Do you think that something like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which essentially takes money from oil and gas resource extraction and pumps it into conservation projects, is going to pass this year? Do you have hope that it will?
SR: It's been very frustrating to watch the Land and Water Conservation Fund sit in limbo for such a long period of time. But, yes, I think most people in my space remain very confident that we're going to get there and hopefully we're going to get there soon. It has widespread bipartisan support. There's just like some snags in getting it through. I think there's very strong support and a lot of optimism that it's going to come through.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.